Hidden Victorian Mothers


1939-530x783hidden-mothers-1hidden-mothers-11These ladies have turned up lately on several arcane websites – it seems to have been a habit of women to appear disguised in photographs where a baby is involved – it allowed them to hold titghtly to the child while the photograph was being taken, but the end result is incredibly creepy – you can find lots more of them if you Google: victorian hidden mother.

18 comments on “Hidden Victorian Mothers”

  1. Stephen Groves says:

    Hi Chris,

    I sometimes use the blanket technique of evasion when Mrs STALKY starts questioning me about the amount of Christopher Fowler books I have in the house.Unfortunately it dosn’t always work as she always spots my feet poking out.

    All Best

  2. Chris Lancaster says:

    It isn’t a hidden Victorian mother in the bottom photograph; it’s one of the Jawas from Star Wars!

  3. David Read says:

    The curtain photo is a modern classic, chromakey Victorian style. Thanks Christopher, I needed a smile today!

  4. Andrea yang says:

    Mothers? Seems strange could they be servants/ nannies ?

  5. Pheeny says:

    The middle one looks like she is wearing a very funky hijab, either that or she has just been involved in a bizarre curtain related accident!

    Maybe they are all the illegitimate offspring of Royalty and that is why the mother’s identity is hidden (you can see what a lurid imagination I have – must be the books I read)

  6. Dan Terrell says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen such photographs in the States. Usually our old photos show a woman in heavy black with high collars, severe hair buns or frozen curls, and a fixed straight-across hint of a smile, while gripping on a small child who appears to have half a dozen itchy places that it must not be scratched. The women in these do tend to dominate the tintypes.
    Was the wrapping to place emphasis on the children? Or are these foreign wives [ 🙂 🙂 ] of British Colonial Merchants?

  7. snowy says:

    These pictures as our host says have cropped up before, the concensus seems to be the cloaked figures are nannies, or photographers assistants.

    No parent that could afford the considerable cost of the new photography, would want their pictures marred by the inclusion of someone from ‘below stairs’.

    Sensitive people should skip this last paragraph.

    The new art of photography was so enthusiatically embraced it give rise to another often seen image. Which modern minds might recoil at, having your recently deceased infant dressed in a mourning layette and posed as if sleeping.

  8. Dan Terrell says:

    Yes, it does Snowy, but a lot of memento muri (if that term isn’t too after the fact) are around. Photographs of older dead relatives, too. “He looks so life like”, right! Better than a plaster deathmask?
    I like the old wild west snaps of Billy the Kid and others with who are photographed propped up in a kitchen chair, leaning back against a plank, arms stretched over the shoulders by two standing guys while a third guys hides behind holding up the head, in a pine coffin, just lying out in the dust, or hanging out there. Tastes have changed, except among serial killer/photographers with a dark room.

  9. Helen Martin says:

    (Memento mori, Dan? Unless you’re talking about walls.) If you wanted a picture just of the baby that would certainly be one way to do it. Following the link there were some very interesting examples (and I don’t mean the young lady posing with the trees, one showing the full photo and next to it the cropped (really, Snowy!)and framed version. There was also an ad for a child holder, a charming sort of clamp thing that would hold children up to 6 years old, would hold twins, would save ever so many ruined plates so that it would save the purchaser its cost ($5)in no time. I agree that the mother is not hidden in any of our family pictures, but then if you can put everyone in one photo why not.

  10. snowy says:

    I did think about rephrasing it, but you got to love a pun.

  11. Pheeny says:

    Wasn’t it said that (babies being the wrigglesome creatures they are) if you saw a perfect photo of a Victorian baby in its crib it was inevitably a death portrait?

  12. snowy says:

    Not necessarily Pheeny there tended to be a very distinct iconography associated with those photgraphs. Certain forms forms of dress, like the black layette or the inclusion of lillies are two that I can remember.

    In the other perfect ones the baby is probably completely ‘mashed’ out of its skull on a mixture of Gin and Morphine to make it docile.

    There were lots of easily available patent remedies sold over the counter at the time specifically to ‘soothe’ babies and infants.

  13. Pheeny says:

    True, Snowy.
    I know laudanum (opium in alcohol?)was popular with all ages. Makes you wonder how society functioned with half the population off their nods on gin, opium and cocaine!

    On the other hand, one way or another, parents of young babies could be guaranteed a decent nights kip – nowadays you are not even allowed to buy Gees Linctus

  14. Dan Terrell says:

    Pheeny: I often wonder how society went on, too. With the water not potable, the sewer systems next to non-existant, and muddy streets and passages full of human and animal waste, plus the belief that a decent coating of dirt kept a body well, toothbrushes just a stick with a fuzzy end and a toothpicky end, and toilet tissue, etc. a distant dream, burrr. And everyone having to drink beer, light beer, brandy, wine, watered wine (hummm…) and other spirits at all times. Or fresh pulled milk for the youngest kiddies. It must have been go to bed snockered and wake up grabbing for a stein of breakfast beer. By luncheon you were probably afloat and after lunch felt slurringly good. (Sounds like a Frat. house to me.) Was there ever a public house in the stews of London called Earwig & Louse?

  15. Helen Martin says:

    I’ll bet there was one with earwig in its name, but I wonder if people had a higher resistance to disease in those days. Not a whole lot more and people died all the time, but at least a little more and I understand the beer wasn’t as strong as now and people diluted the wine (yeah, with that water!)so maybe the alcohol wasn’t as evident. The drugs, however, must have have had an effect, though, and if you look at the photos on that site you’ll see some very strange expressions.

  16. Pheeny says:


    I suppose more people died that would not die now Helen, but on the other hand no effective means of contraception so if you survived the first one you were probably good for another twelve, and even if only half survived into adulthood they probably had pretty strong constitutions.

    Incidentally Dan – I see in today’s paper that the majority of the population fib about their alcohol intake with three quarters regularly exceeding the recommended guidelines – I wonder how many units the average Victorian necked?

  17. snowy says:

    I tried snorting Calpol once, [just to take the edge off a bad day]. It was completely useless, and bloody messy.*

    You just can’t get a decent ‘Narco-smoothie’ these days, even Dr Collis Browne’s Mixture is not what it was.

    {* may contain lies}.

  18. Helen Martin says:

    What about Gripe Water? Is that still available?

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